Flustered and stumbling I fall into a room with my arms full of brayers and inks, struggling not to have them leap from my grasp onto the floor below. Leaning against the doorframe to catch my breath, I look up to scout the room, only to discover a dozen bright faces peering back at me. Each youthful face has a question, a doubt, and an excitement- struggling to remain composed for the opportune moment of, “Hey, I think I need help.”
“Yeah? Let me take a look, where are you having trouble?” I ask.
“Idunno, the whole thing, it’s all wrong.”
“All wrong huh, well, let’s see what we can do.”
Welcome to the world of teaching.
As a teaching assistant I am responsible for being the ever present side-kick to various professors, sharing between us a class of students, for better or for worse. Like most jobs, teaching is more than a visual experience, but within an art school, you can understand the special emphasis occurring when it comes to guiding students and their art practice. I find teaching a strange sensation. The transferring of information in such a verbal and visual form is fascinating.
The classic connection made between teacher and pupil can be a compelling source of direction for students. When I first began these assistantships, I was surprised at the sudden responsibility I was given to help in molding these young minds. I figured I would just help around the classroom now and then, but the position has become something else entirely. The sudden realization that students consider you a valid source of information about art, life, and success can at first feel daunting. I may feel this way when considering my age, which is really no different in age from these undergrad students. I constantly question my level of life experience, wondering if the example I set should be considered in higher esteem than their peers.
No two students are quite the same, but there are common threads that reflect in each of them this time in their lives. I’ve found that my job mainly consists of answering questions, and its simply a matter of what questions are asked. Some students need assurance about choices they’ve already made. Others, are concerned more with what others will think of their choices. A few only care what I think, and a couple don’t care what anybody thinks, because they don’t’ show up to class at all.
In these different needs and interactions, I find a memorable visual experience. The facial expressions someone makes when they realize how something I’ve suggested could actually work. The excitement fostered through community when we all discover something new in the classroom or studio. As professor Michel Miller describes it, “I’m glad to see my students working in the shop, getting things done, but you’ve got to watch these kids, because they’ll run you down if your not careful.” Like any job, I find the work bittersweet, witnessing many people get worn down by the end of the semester, students and teachers alike. One SAIC professor even disclosed to me some of the difficulties of teaching saying, “Yeah, I want to help all these kids, but some of them make it harder to assist them than others, still, it’s always a good time introducing students to things I like and finding that they like them too.”
Images are final pieces from the B/W Photo Course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago- Early College Program 2011